Leaving & Cleaving
Part 2: Leaving
Genesis 2:24 “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” (HCSB)
In part one of this post, we saw how this verse and its placement in the Scripture demonstrate the priority of marriage, the joining of one man and one woman for life. It was stated that Genesis 2:24 is as much a parenting verse as it is a marriage verse. From this one verse we see that the bond between husband and wife is to be stronger than the bond between parent and child. However, the bond between husband and wife is not always allowed to form as the primary human relationship due to the inability of one or both spouses to leave behind, in a healthy manner, the bond between themselves and their parents.
Part one of this series focused on the importance of the parents’ role of sending their children out of the home as adults, rather than on a journey to become one; avoiding prolonged adolescence, thereby helping young adults to be better prepared for the marriage relationship. Even in families where parents have done their best to prepare their children for adulthood and marriage, married couples may find there is still an attachment to the family of origin for one or both spouses. Whether you are a newlywed couple or have been married for decades, failure to separate (in a healthy way) from parents in order to bond with their spouse will cause difficulty in the marriage relationship. In this post, we will discuss four ways people stay attached to their parents, causing difficulty in marriage.
Money is one of the biggest ways a married adult, especially a young adult, may find themselves unintentionally still attached to their parents. Financial independence is a big part of severing the bond with parents and forming a new, stronger bond with your spouse. There is nothing wrong with parents blessing their children with a gift, as long as that is what it truly is, or helping in a major crisis. The difficulty arises when the parents’ financial contribution comes with conditions and expectations or is an integral part of the regular running of the household.
Money has a way of changing the relationship. A couple may receive a “gift” from one set of parents and when Christmas rolls around suddenly you hear, “Oh, you’re traveling to see them for Christmas. I guess that’s how you want to spend the money WE gave you.” Or, “We were hoping you would use that money for…” Always be careful when accepting financial gifts, be sure it is with no strings attached.
Usually, it is not the gifts that keep married couples attached to their parents. It is the smaller things that we may think are not really a big deal; staying on mom and dad’s cell phone plan, health insurance, car insurance, a little extra cash here and there to pay the rent or for groceries. These may seem small, however, they contribute to prolonged adolescence (too much privilege, not enough responsibility) and keep you from making a healthy break from your parents.
Some of my greatest memories in my marriage came in those moments when we were struggling financially and we had to rely on God’s provision and figure it out together. It made our marriage stronger and now we look back and laugh about the times when our only entertainment was to spend hours sitting at a folding table in a 400 square foot apartment playing poker with a $.99 box of Mike & Ike candies or watching a DVD we borrowed from the library because we couldn’t even afford to rent a movie.
“I am having an affair with…my mother.” Gross. I vividly remember hearing those words from a friend of mine who had been struggling in his marriage. He told me about how his marriage had been struggling and as he and his wife talked about what was going on a big part of it was that she felt left out. Anytime something big happened, good or bad, she was always the second call, his mom was the first. That’s when he realized he was having an emotional affair with his mom. He was turning to his mom for the emotional support and fulfillment he should be getting from his wife.
This is more common that we’d like to think. Emotional affairs can form with anyone, and they are just as damaging to a marriage as a sexual affair. However, it has been my experience that they often happen with a parent. It makes sense when you think about it. Mom and dad have likely been your biggest supporters and confidants for most of your life and old habits die hard. Yet, a HUGE part of bonding with your spouse is the emotional connection. To give the primary emotional connection to someone else is nothing short of infidelity.
What kind of church do you attend? Why? What kind of car do you drive? Why? How did you vote in the last election? Why? Perhaps you’ve never given it much thought, but many of us attend the churches we attend, drive the cars we drive, vote the way we vote, and think the way we think because of our parents. To some degree, it’s natural and to be expected. The problem arises when we find ourselves making decisions in our marriage based on what our parents will think, how they will feel, or how they will respond. If you make decisions based on the opinions and feelings of your parents, it will be difficult for you to rise above that and ask, “Is this the best decision for my spouse, my family, and me?”
Honestly, this is an area where I struggle. Not necessarily with my parents, but with approval in general. I’m driven, a perfectionist, and I’ve always been a high achiever. Along with that comes a desire for someone to recognize when I’ve done well. God is continuing to work on me in this area and I am constantly reminding myself of Galatians 1:10 “For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” I have to remind myself there is only One whose opinion truly matters. It is upon that opinion only that my wife and I base all our decisions.
Of all the ways you may stay attached to your parents, this is perhaps the stealthiest and most toxic. Your parents may have died years ago, yet you may still be attached to them through unresolved anger, resentment, and bitterness.
Anger can be stealthy. It may lie dormant for years until a memory is triggered by a word or experience and suddenly you are overwhelmed with a flood of emotions. The anger begins to consume your thoughts; it is the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thing you think of before you finally fall asleep after lying awake for hours, tossing and turning. Soon you find yourself drained emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. It can also stealthily linger in the back of your mind for years, not overwhelming you but remaining just present enough to rob you of a healthy life.
This is what makes anger so toxic. You’ve expended so much, yet nothing has changed, meanwhile, the object of your anger is likely often blissfully unaware and completely unaffected. It has been said that unresolved anger is like drinking poison hoping the other person will get sick.
Forgiveness is the only cure for anger. Much could be said about forgiveness. For now, it is important recognize that forgiveness is not reconciliation and forgiveness is not an event, rather it is a process. Reconciliation requires two people. If your parents have died reconciliation is not an option, forgiveness still is. Lastly, forgiveness is not a one-time event it is an ongoing process. It takes time. Yet, if you pursue forgiveness, over time, little by little, you will find yourself experiencing freedom from the prison created by your own anger.
Finances, emotional support, approval, and anger are just a few of the ways a married person may find themselves bound to their parents rather than leaving that bond, in a healthy manner, in order to bond with their spouse. If you find yourself struggling to prioritize the bond with your spouse first, identify the connection that needs to be severed in order to prioritize the bond with your spouse and begin taking action. It may mean you find a more mature couple who will give you godly counsel and mentor you, seek out a professional Biblical counselor, or visit with your pastor about how to move forward. Do whatever is necessary to make your marriage bond a priority by leaving your mother and father in order to bond with your spouse.